Analyzing how digital transformation affects children and advancing policy recommendations
The digital revolution is shaping children’s lives in profound ways. Children are early adopters and frequent users of the internet for communication, play, school work, access to information and expression. At the same time, the digital world increasingly tracks and shapes children’s choices and actions, potentially limiting their development. How can we maximize children’s well-being through the positive use of digital technologies while mitigating the risks of harm?
We analyse the impact of digital transformation and frontier technologies on children and develop recommendations and policy advice for governments and the private sector.
Revisiting digital inclusion for children
Even though the concept of the “digital divide” has evolved since the term was coined in 1995, it is still often framed in terms of internet access and digital skills. But digital inclusion for all faces a broader set of barriers, from social inequalities and limited local content, to differences in how digital platforms and frontier technologies are deployed for the benefit of children in different contexts.
We are taking a fresh look at current digital inclusion frameworks and policy approaches that shape the digital world, in order to support the development of more inclusive and up-to-date digital policies for children.
Neurotechnology and children
Neurotechnologies aim to read or manipulate brain activity and have largely been focused on medical support: for example, helping paralyzed patients use their minds to move robotic arms, play video games or type. But it is anticipated that the commercial use of these technologies will have a greater uptake, especially in gaming, education, and marketing.
While the potential benefits are groundbreaking, there are inherent risks to free will and mental privacy. Already there are calls for neuromarketing – which involves studying consumers' sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli – to be prohibited for use on children.
While the potential benefits are groundbreaking, there are inherent risks to free will and mental privacy.
Through a scan of trends in neurotechnologies we aim to better understand the opportunities and risks for children, and what policy approaches are needed to maximize the benefits and avoid these risks.
The metaverse and extended reality
The idea that our physical lives will move into a single virtual metaverse might seem unlikely or even implausible. But the technologies that underpin virtual environments, including artificial intelligence (AI) and extended reality (XR) devices, are becoming more sophisticated and mainstream. While it remains to be seen whether the metaverse will materialize, tens of millions of children and young people are already active in virtual environments and game spaces.
How will the blending of real and virtual worlds influence children today and in the future? Will virtual spaces amplify real-world inequities? And what is required to create a safe, empowering virtual environment?
To answer these questions and more, we observe how metaverse-related technologies are evolving and impacting children’s rights. We identify likely risks and opportunities. And we propose recommendations to policymakers, regulators and the tech industry to ensure virtual environments are inclusive spaces where all young people can thrive.
From social media face filters to content recommendations to language translation apps, children are already engaging with Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, provoking both hopes and concerns. Strategies and ethical guidelines from government, non-profit and private sector organizations dedicate little attention to children, and translating policies and guidance into action remains a global challenge.
How do we ensure that children’s development is prioritized in AI policies and implementation? We worked with the Government of Finland on a two-year project to answer this question.
Digital misinformation / disinformation and children
The rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation has emerged as a pressing public issue, affecting not only anyone and everyone who might be online but many who remain offline.
But when it comes to navigating the digital world, children – with their cognitive capacities still developing – are particularly vulnerable to the risks of mis/disinformation. But they are also capable of playing an active role in countering its flow and in mitigating its adverse effects.
Our rapid analysis goes beyond simply trying to understand the phenomenon of false and misleading information, but explains how policymakers, civil society, tech companies and parents and caregivers can act to support children as they grow up.
Digital civic participation of young people
Amidst the digital transformation of public and private spaces, child and adolescent participation looks considerably different today. Online, adolescents have more access to networked social movements through decentralized digital communication and messaging. Young people can also mobilize for issue-oriented activism quickly and effectively through digital social platforms. Digital tools may therefore provide a new ‘ladder of citizen participation’ for young people.
However, issues around child civic participation in the digital space abound. Do all children and adolescents have opportunities to engage? Do they have necessary digital and civic skills? Do they trust the internet as a platform for civic engagement? Is their right to privacy respected? Are they protected from harm?
To better understand the different types of youth digital civic participation and their opportunities and challenges, we are gathering evidence and identifying areas in which UNICEF can offer support to ensure child rights are promoted and protected.
Digital tools may provide a new ‘ladder of citizen participation’ for young people.
Internet users must be able to make the most of opportunities that come from digital technology and the internet. This is especially true for children as an increasing number of activities move online, yet children also face particular risks when they’re connected. Instilling such capabilities in children is critical for life in the 21st century: to access educational and social resources, to safely play online, to develop online identities and participate in digital civic engagement, to utilize community and government services, and to succeed in the digital economy.
Investing in children's digital literacy means building more responsible, employable and tolerant future world citizens. We have undertaken a scoping study to better understand digital literacy for children.